The forces of power and influence in surfing

September 30, 2013 | Surfing
Surfing: who's got power and influence?

The world surfing actors play a dynamic sphere-of-influence game. But, in the sport of riding waves, who's in control?

According to SurferToday Research, the surf industry is worth 20 billion dollars (including the wave sports of surfing, bodyboarding, windsurfing and kiteboarding).

There's a lot of money at stake behind the naive act of riding wave faces. Surfing is a serious business. Seriously. And surf companies don't live of selling gear, that's for sure.

When we talk about the "Big Four" - Billabong, O'Neill, Quiksilver and Rip Curl - surf wear is where profit is. Forget wetsuits, surf fins, traction pads or surfboards. Surf brands want you to buy boardshorts, shoes and sandals, sweatshirts, t-shirts, trousers. That's where the coin meets the pocket.

With roughly 35 million surfers worldwide, the anonymous wave rider is on the base of the power and influence pyramid. The average weekend surfer has the power to change the consumer behavior of his circle of friends. Not much.

Anonymous surfers make their choices, but they can't change the surfing world all by themselves. Surf judges are not the wizards of surfing, but they can make a difference when they decide who's the best in a heat.

Surfboards shapers, the builders of dreams, can change surfing by introducing new approaches to plank design and its relationship with hydrodynamics. Asymmetrical shapes, revolutionary core materials, innovative rail work, and functional tail models surely change the way we draw the line.

Newly-shaped surfboards are then marketed in surf shops, the retail centers of our dreams. Surf shops have the power to decide our choices, whether we're getting a new wetsuit or a set of surf fins. We trust our local surf stores, and they command an interesting power over their clients.

The pyramid of influence in the surfing world has reached the halfway mark. At this stage we discover the non-governmental surf organizations. These groups of surfers defend valuable causes such as beach access, environmental protection, pollution prevention, access to clean water, access to medicine, etc. Fortunately, their victories are everyone's triumphs.

The level of influence is rising. It's time to meet the power of the surf acronyms. Have you ever heard of the ASP, ISA or SIMA? Well, the surfing world has its executive institutions, too. Whether they decide the rules of competitive wave riding, lobby for an Olympic spot or analyze the shopping trends of anonymous surfers, the truth is that they control the surf ship.

Surf media dominate in a different way. Despite their less respectable reputation/prestige and biased attitudes, surf magazines, surf blogs, surf TV channels and surf journals reach wide audiences. They are opinion-makers and may rapidly change consumption patterns in the surf shopping world.

The top of the great pyramid of surfing influence is reserved to the artists. Pro surfers are modern world acknowledged stars. Their smiles, their words, their wave decisions, their surfboards and their victories get us online till dawn. Our favorite surfers inspire and motivates us to improve our own surfing.

Finally, meet the surf companies. They feed the surfing world and our lives. With hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide, surf brands control the clothes and shorts what we wear, and even the way we ride waves. They know what and when we buy surf gear and apparel, but we couldn't live without the surf companies' appeal.

Like an Harvard Business School teacher once said, "power is the ability to get things done". How have you been influencing the sport of surfing?

Take a look at the most influential people in wave sports in 2013. uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more on our About section.